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The Jazz Age Maharani: Sanyogita Devi of Indore

By : Alex Aubry
The Jazz Age Maharani: Sanyogita Devi of Indore

Maharani Sanyogita Devi and her husband the Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar of Indore, were considered one of the chicest couples of the Jazz Age. They married in 1924 and gave birth to their first child, Princess Usha Devi, on October 20th, 1933 in Paris. Educated in England, the Maharaja and Maharani were fixtures amongst the international jet set of the 1920s and ‘30s; equally at ease in the gilded drawing rooms of New York, London and Paris. In Hollywood they befriended the stars and movie moguls of the day such as Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who invited them to movie sets and film premiers.

 

Celebrated as one of the era’s most stylish women, the Maharani would frequently appear at functions dressed by Vionnet, Schiaparelli and Lanvin. During couture presentations, she stood out amongst European and American clients in her custom French chiffon saris, elegantly perched on a gilt chair with a fur coat draped on her shoulders. The royal couple also had a deep interest in modern art and design, which won them the friendship of some of the greatest artists and designers of the era, including furniture designer Emil Ruhlmann, artist Constantin Brancusi (from whom they commissioned several sculptures) and Man Ray, who shared their passion for jazz and captured the couple in a series of playful portraits while on vacation in Cannes.

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They would commission Eckart Muthesius, a young German architect, to design a modernist fairytale palace for them in 1930 equipped with the latest technologies. Avant-garde furnishings were also commissioned from designers in Berlin, London and Paris that included tabular steel chairs by architect Marcel Breuer, a chaise longue by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, as well as an ebony, chrome and leather armchair by Eileen Gray. In May 1980, the contents of their palace in Indore was sold during an auction in Mont Carlo, with a large number of pieces finding their way into the collection of the Al-Thani family of Qatar.

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Amongst the most memorable portraits of the Maharaini were those by the celebrated society painter of the day, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, who sketched fashions for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar early in his career. Over the course of four years he would create three striking portraits capturing the chic Maharani in French chiffon saris and elegant couture gowns. Part of Princess Usha Devi’s private collection, two of the portraits were displayed to the public for the first time in the Maharaja exhibtion at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2010. Amongst them was de Monvel’s 1931 portrait that captured the Maharani’s legendary elegance, wearing a dress by Madeleine Vionnet with a diamond and emerald necklace by Mauboussin.